How to Beat Micromanaging – Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs

It’s hard enough to maintain employee motivation in any work environment, stressful or not. But when you, as the leader, think people need your “help” at every step of the way, you demotivate your workers, and manifest anxiousness, anxiety, and fear. Lack of motivation has a direct impact on productivity and thus, your bottom line – maybe even your annual bonus. You think if you watch over people, mistakes will diminish, but you are wrong. People won’t respond well to your micromanaging.

In case you don’t realize it, or you’ve forgotten your MBA training, here are some signs that you are micromanaging your team –

  1. You do not delegate effectively.

You are under the mistaken notion that if you can control most of the work or rely on a few of “confidants”, work will be on time and done to perfection. Are you one of those “martyr” micromanagers that works through the night because you don’t trust anyone else with your special project? Or are you one of those people who checks up on your team who happens to actually be working all night. One manager of mine showed up at 4:00AM in my work area, which was a special access area. He wasn’t permitted in there. The pre-dawn knock at the door was a shock. We had a critical deadline and only a very few people were allowed to work on it. When asked what he was doing there in the early hours of the morning, he said that he couldn’t sleep. However, I suspected that he was actually checking up on me, ensuring I was at work completing the project. He offered to buy me breakfast. However, by the time we finished our work, the breakfast hour in the dining center was over. He gave an embarrassed chuckle, but I wasn’t amused.

  • Injects him/herself into employees’ work, whether it’s needed or not.

If we need help, we’ll ask you. Other examples of micromanagers are overzealous in offering assistance. One manager I recall was so unsure of the work being done, that he assigned two different people to complete the job at the same time. He injected himself into the process to make sure that all bases were covered. This meddling caused a profound lack of trust and insecurity on the part of both people assigned. Double the work was caused because this micromanager injected himself into the workflow process with no apparent gain, and a lot of quizzical looks on people’s faces.

  • Insists on being updated frequently, in person, by phone, text, or email.

What’s the first thing you, as a manager do when you wake up first thing in the morning or, as one manager I know, in the middle of the night? Do you incessantly check your phone and emails? Are you texting employees at any time, regardless of time zones or time of day? Do you call your people on weekends and holidays just to “check in” on projects? Unlike you, people want some time away from work, even the idea of work. This practice is extremely annoying and stressful, and I’m sure your family doesn’t appreciate your time away from the dinner table or being on the phone during your daughter’s soccer game. So, give yourself and your employees a break and tone down the technological oversight. There is another world out there. You should find some time to enjoy it.

  • Insists on status updates in the form of charts, graphs and spreadsheets.

A micromanager doesn’t always seem to process information easily, therefore, in order to ensure his team is working on exactly what he or she wants, and is meeting a self-imposed artificial deadline, the micromanager demands endless power point presentations detailing what he or she probably already knows. The project is behind, everyone knows the real date, and the team leader is obtaining more staff. But you just can’t wrap your mind around those facts, even though you’ve heard them in many different forms already. You call a meeting and insist on a detailed presentation with depictions of every aspect of the project. To mollify your insistence on chartsmanship, the team has spent endless hours preparing various graphical constructs to break the facts down in minute detail. And this effort has pulled them away from the actual work they need to do. So, due to your desire for continuous updates (another micromanaging tactic) your team is now hours or maybe even days behind. And what if you don’t like the colors they have used or certain words on the charts? You can blow up the whole meeting by telling them to “never use red” or “we don’t use pie charts here”. The exercise quickly turns into a “bring me a rock” exercise.

  • Continuously monitors his/her team’s work behind their backs. Asks others outside his team what his employees are working on.

Lack of trust could not be more apparent when you deliberately go behind your people’s backs to check up on them. Going around people indicates that you do not believe they are doing their jobs. People can become disillusioned, demotivated and insulted that you are checking on them, and it makes you look like a control freak. Furthermore, how is it that you don’t know what your people are doing? Are you thinking that they made up their minds to take on another assignment unrelated to your department? Have you made decisions that directly affect them and don’t bother to mention it, like moving people, bringing in someone new or changing roles without informing those who are impacted?

If you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, it’s time you refreshed your people skills. Treat others just like you want to be treated. The best way to cure yourself of micromanagement is to put yourself in the shoes of others. Ask yourself if you’d like to be checked on or taken away from your job to spend hours creating endless charts. The two factors micromanagers lack most frequently are empathy and perspective. Once you can see circumstances from someone else point of view and understand their feelings, you’ll be more likely to treat people as humans, just like you. When you go to work, you don’t stop being a human being, and neither do your employees. Remember what your mother told you growing up, be nice and mind your manners. That simple advice goes a long way towards making the workplace fun. Or maybe you don’t belong in that management role and you should bow out before your turnover rate becomes embarrassing.

Taken from my new book, The Leader You Don’t Want to Be: Transform Your Leadership Style from Command and Control to Transformational Visionary, February 17, 2021. Free with Kindle Unlimited.  Available now on

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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.

Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.

Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.

Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.